Activists abandon oil rig after drilling protest

Greenpeace activists climbed aboard a huge oil rig off Istanbul on Friday in a bid to prevent it from reaching Greenland to begin deep-water drilling in the Arctic, but later abandoned their protest because of bad weather.

The environmental group said eleven activists, some in rock-climbing gear, used speedboats to intercept and then climb atop the Leiv Eiriksson at dawn after it had left a port in Istanbul. They climbed the rig's derrick, unfurling a banner that read: "Stop Arctic destruction" and "Go Beyond Oil, Choose Clean Energy."

The platform, one of the world's largest, did not stop and continued on its course to Greenland's Baffin Bay, crossing through the Dardanelles strait and heading toward Greek waters, said Deniz Sozudogru, a Greenpeace spokeswoman for the Mediterranean region.

Sozudogru said six activists left the rig on speed boats as it crossed the Dardanelles, which connects the Sea of Marmara to the Aegean, but five remained. However, a heavy gale then forced the remaining activists to give up the protest.

Scottish company Cairn Energy PLC, which operates the rig, confirmed the activists had departed.

The company said it was operating at the invitation of Greenland's government and had successfully drilled three wells there in 2010.

"Wherever it is active, Cairn seeks to operate in a safe and prudent manner," a Cairn statement said, adding that it also "respects the rights of individuals and organizations to express their views in a safe manner."

Greenpeace wants Cairn to suspend deep-water drilling after the spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

"Freezing temperatures, severe weather and a highly remote location pose unprecedented challenges to any oil spill response in the Arctic and mean a spill could be impossible to contain and clean up," Greenpeace said in a statement.

Leiv Eiriksson had been exploring possible oil and gas in the Black Sea under a joint venture between Turkey and Brazil's Petrobas.